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What is hurting tiger translocation project in India

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New Delhi, June 21: Long before Rajasthan's Sariska lost all its tigers to poachers in 2004. It was believed that the tiger reserve, would regain its past glory. But despite the phased translocation of tigers ever since, the programme appears to have achieved little, thanks to the shoddy handling of the habitat.

If numbers are to be believed, with ST-16's death, now there's one male tiger for eight tigresses in Sariska. According to the experts, just one male tiger for every eight females an extremely dangerous sign, and clearly indicates that Sariska could soon become tiger-less once again.

What is hurting tiger translocation project in India

Interestingly, Panna National Park was the second tiger reserve in India after Sariska to loose all its native tigers. Though tigers were repopulated in Sarsika before Panna, the latter has three times the number of the tigers than in the former.

Over the years five females and two males have mated over 30 times and produced over 80 plus cubs and now it has become one of the major success stories in the country. However, the Tiger relocation has remained an arduous task in Sariska.

Why the need for transfer?

With decades of efforts at conservation bearing fruit, India has 70% of the tiger population in the world. The count increased from 1,411 during 2006 to 1,706 during 2010 and 2,226 during 2014, according to census figures. In the past, tigers have been relocated within the reserves of a State.

Tiger transfer is done in order to ensure a healthy tiger population in a reserve. It can be done in various condition ranging from reserve having no tiger to ensuring a balanced sex ratio in a tiger reserve. In the case of Sariska, there is a high number of tigress when compared to tigers.

India loses 51 tigers in five months, Madhya Pradesh tops the list

What does it takes for Tiger relocation

The process of tiger translocation is governed by the "Protocol for Tiger Re-introduction", framed by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), a body to manage and conserve tigers, under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC). It states that a team of experts from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), forest department of the state, a qualified veterinarian and a qualified wildlife biologist should evaluate the socio-economic impact of the translocation on the people in the area.

History of the translocation project

Last year Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh and Satkosia Tiger Reserve in Odisha were the first two participants for this project. The first tiger to be transferred under this was Tigress Sundari. However, things didn't go as expected. But days later, the carcass of the tiger was found in the reserve and it was said that the tiger died of an infection. This made authorities halt the tiger relocation project.

Since 2008, around 20 tigers were to be reintroduced in Sariska Tiger Reserve (STR) in Alwar district of Rajasthan. Of which nine till date have been reintroduced in STR. Four of them -- three males and a female -- died due to various reasons such as poisoning (ST-1), territorial fight (ST-4), poaching (ST-5) and heat stroke (ST-16) . STR now has 15 big cats, of which seven are female, three male and five cubs.

Where did the previous project go wrong?

The biggest reason that was attributed to tiger deaths in translocation project was the different gene pool of tigers across different tiger reserves in the country. It was said that the tiger translocation project didn't take this into account before transferring a tiger from gene pool to Satkosia Tiger Reserve.

The second reason stems from the fact that the big cats translocated in Sariska were transit animals in the age group of five years, who didn't have their territories. A male tiger becomes dominating only at the age of around eight.

The third biggest reason is the presence of 29 villages inside the reserve. The Rajasthan government has made no earnest attempt was made to clear the forest for the big cat, its rightful owner.

Is the translocation project doomed to fail?

The series of unfortunate events while trans-locating tigers have actually raised question over the success rate of such projects. But undoubtedly, translocation is possible but it takes a lot of planning and risk. This is why, it is considered as a last resort for repopulating the tiger reserves.

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